Having waited almost a week for my new Chromecast with Google TV to arrive, I had plenty of time to think about what the experience of using it would be like. To be honest, I didn’t expect much to be different from its predecessor, but I was definitely wrong. I think that right now, plenty of other people are discussing the device’s specifications and talking geek about this thing, but I wanted to take a few minutes to tell you about the small things that really won me over and stood out as I began to use it. It really is the little things that make the biggest difference and you won’t see these on the spec card.
My only experience with Android TV thus far has been with the Nvidia Shield TV, so all of my thoughts going forward will be of me comparing my time with it to the new Chromecast. Since most of what I’ll mention today has to do with the software, I’ll briefly touch on one thing about the hardware that really made me happy. The remote’s click wheel is slightly raised, making it nearly impossible to press the confirm button on accident while trying to navigate. The Shield TV remote constantly annoyed me because If you weren’t looking at it, it was really easy to reach from the left to the right side of the click wheel or vice versa while navigating and accidentally click the middle button to confirm your choice. The thing is, the new remote doesn’t really look like it’s raised, but it’s just subtle enough to make a major difference in hand.
Moving on to the software side of what the remote is responsible for, one of the biggest winners for me is that the volume buttons actually control your TV volume! In the past, I’ve had to use my phone to place content I’ve cast at max volume and then I would be told that I would need to use my TV’s standard remote to put it any louder. Somehow, Google has found a way to unify the two into one function. This goes a long way to making my entertainment setup feel unified. Another thing that I like about the remote is that long pressing on a TV show or movie listing brings up a contextual menu which allows you to add it to your watchlist, rate it and more. If I had to click on every listing I wanted to interact with and then go back after performing each task, I would feel as though my experience would grind to a halt. It’s nice that Google has thought about how the speed at which we navigate through content can be increased by reducing how many clicks it takes to do simple things. I should also mention that having my Watchlist prominently featured and accessible has really personalized Google TV for me. It has long since been a feature, but placing special focus on it has caused me to go back several times and choose something to watch.
The built-in Assistant button is something I’m actually using on this new remote. With my Shield TV, I would have to wait for several seconds after pressing the voice button before it was ready to listen to me. If I spoke too quickly, it would only catch the last half of what I said. It was so annoying that I avoided using voice search whatsoever. With the new Chromecast, I feel like I’m talking to my TV 90% of the time and typing only when I need to input passwords to set services up. I feel like I can move at the same speed on my TV as I do on my phone and that’s refreshing considering how slow and restrictive TV navigation has always been.
The fact that Google TV has its own design and layout for all movies and TV shows and even their seasons and episodes lends to the sense that it’s a one stop shop for all of your watching needs. Pulling all of that content into a single interface from each app without being yanked out of the experience feels like something that should have been created years ago. This very thing is also what makes your apps feel invisible. After the initial setup for each app, you just click ‘Play’ on a piece of content through Google TV’s interface and it starts playing. You’re not presented with the interface or the logo for the service that sources that content. This isn’t perfect, but it works most of the time and glues everything together really nicely.
Having live TV built-in as a core feature of the Google TV experience feels like one major thing the Chromecast has been missing. Youtube TV subscribers can scroll through a TV guide feature and pick something to watch as it airs. Even though I hate most of what’s playing much of the time, including live TV makes the Chromecast feel like a living, breathing, place to discover new and evolving content and that’s exciting. The Live TV feature has two seemingly inconsequential details that stuck out to me as genius, too. Right above the TV guide, you have a ‘What’s On’ section which shows you big thumbnails of content that’s airing in real time, making it more likely for those browsing to jump straight into a show or movie with less effort.
They’ve also included some of your Youtube TV DVR content in your ‘Library’ tab. When the service was known as Google Play Movies and TV – you know, last week – your library felt like a static location…like a physical movie rack. You bought a movie or a show and it stayed there forever until you decided to watch it. A space just for collectors, I would say. Including DVR content in with the library tab makes it a place where I want to keep coming back to so that I can explore ever-changing content that’s more personal to me. The whole idea of the new Chromecast with Google TV has been to get people watching quicker with less need to peruse. I think that for me, this has worked like a charm! I’m very excited to continue poking through the software to get a sense for how Google can improve it. While I hope proper profile switching for family members is adding immediately, I think they’ve done an incredible job at launch.